Sally Lockhart, a self-made teenager in the late 1800s, is an independent woman and gunslinger who dabbles with opium and aims to be an accountant. The book begins when she gets a strange note from her late father’s business partner. When she visits the shipping company where her father used to work, Sally realizes that she has stumbled upon a dangerous mystery. While the main focus of the book is to help find a lost ruby, Sally is also consumed with the shady circumstances around her father’s death. Along the way she meets a young office boy named Jim, a mysterious Mr. Marchbanks, a dangerous woman called Mrs. Holland, and Frederick Garland, a photographer.
This book seemed like a incredibly dark version of Nancy Drew. The main character seems tortured and confused about the right thing to do. I enjoyed the depth of Sally as a character, though I question if she is the best role model for anyone. I thought the writing style was consistent with the setting and time period and all of the characters, not just Sally, were interesting and complex.
“The story’s events are so exciting that when the denouement with its explanations finally comes, it is anticlimactic. Moreover, with such involved plotting, it will most likely take a second reading to find out if everything actually hangs together, and readers may want to do just that (1987 Cooper).“
I agree with this review in that the plot was not typical of mysteries and requires a close reading. I think the book is more of a thriller than a mystery because the mystery part is much less important.
It would be a very fun exercise to have a mystery reading club for teens and put this book with a Nancy Drew book. I think the kids would have a lot to say about how the books compared and contrasted.
Cooper, I. (1987). Ruby in the Smoke. The Booklist Online. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/The-Ruby-in-the-Smoke-Philip-Pullman/pid=1915173.
Pullman, P. (1985). The Ruby in the Smoke. London: Oxford University Press.